August 9, 2012
When Ken George isn’t helping students perfect the finer points of digital animation, he’s at the gym polishing his physique for competition.
George has been a competitive bodybuilder since 2009 and has taught animation and motion capture classes as an adjunct instructor in DePaul’s College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) since 2010. To George, the two disciplines have important common qualities.
“I appreciate both fitness and animation because there is always something that you can improve on,” he says. “Both take an eye for detail. I can continue to strive for perfection.”
George always had dueling creative and athletic streaks. “My background is in the traditional arts, such as painting and sculpture,” he explains. “In high school, I was torn between athletics and being a part of the art community.”
A knee injury ended George’s high school football career, but led him to focus more time on art. After college, he started taking graduate 3-D animation courses at DePaul and caught the eye of CDM professors.
“[Assistant Professor] Josh Jones and [Associate Professor] Scott Roberts asked me to instruct the motion capture course,” George says. “I had experience working at an animation studio that does gaming and work in feature films. The company uses a unique setup that I learned when I was an intern. Jones knew I had this experience, and he thought I had the ability to teach.”
While Jones and Roberts saw promise in George as a teacher, a fellow gym member saw promise in him as a competitive athlete.
“When I was working at a gym in 2008, a woman approached me to join a team of people who wanted to train more competitively. She had seen me training hard and pushing myself, so she offered me the opportunity to see how I compared to others. I thought it was a good chance to put my hard work to use and to be part of a team.”
Through the fall and winter of 2008, George buckled down on his training and started keeping food logs. Then in spring 2009, he competed in his first show, the Grand Prix Natural — an annual competition for amateurs who do not use performance enhancing substances such as anabolic steroids or human growth hormones. He placed second in his weight class.
“Being in the top five among 15 or 20 competitors is something to be proud of,” George explains. “I was up there with guys who had 10 years on me in training.”
Since then George has been in seven more shows, including five shows last year after switching to a new division called “men’s physique.”
“Men’s physique is a great competition for any guy who lives a natural lifestyle — someone who doesn’t use drugs and who wants a more naturally obtainable physique,” he says.
Preparing for battle
George’s year-round approach to diet and exercise requires a good deal of self-control.
“I cut out sugars and dairy, cycle through periods of high- and low-carbohydrate consumption, have a very high protein intake and limit my cheat meals to once a month. It’s not about starving yourself; you are eating all the time, which keeps your metabolism on fire.” In fact, he consumes 3,500-4,000 calories a day in his off-season and 2,700-3,500 when preparing for a show.
“It’s hard when you’re surrounded by family who don’t understand,” he adds. “They go out and have a good time, and you’re sitting there with your glass of water and a chicken salad. But I don’t see that as a problem. They catch on eventually about why you’re doing it.”
For his workouts, George lifts weights four times a week for one hour and then adds conditioning, such as swimming or running hills. He believes the most important part of fitness is to simplify workouts.
“Of course what I do is a little more extreme, but if you just want to get healthy or put on some muscle or lose fat, don’t worry about focusing on certain areas,” he says. “Just do full-body workouts at least twice a week, and maybe take one or two days to focus on lagging areas. Start simple and get a basic routine going. Don’t overwhelm yourself.”
For the next year George is putting off competition to finish his student film project — a 3-D animated film — and complete his master’s degree. He also plans to become professionally certified through the International Federation of Bodybuilding.
“As for my career, I will always have my health and fitness lifestyle as a backup plan, but I plan to pursue my career in animation,” he says.